Team MRF head into this weekend’s fourth round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship determined to extend their lead with drivers Esapekka Lappi and Gaurav Gill.
The Malaysian Rally is traditionally held in hot, humid and slippery conditions, and will feature a 15 stage course that should suit the Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000s down to the ground. Finnish star, Lappi, won the recent International Rally of Queensland and heads into the Malaysian round with a three-point lead in the championship.
However, despite him doing two rallies since then, including the World Championship Rally Finland, this will be his first time to Malaysia, and he is expecting it to be tough. “It’s quite a difficult rally, temperatures up to 40 degrees. It’s hell I think,” Lappi said recently.
In contrast, his team-mate, Indian Gaurav Gill, has contested the event several times and sits just seven points behind Lappi in the standings. “I know that Lappi is not really looking forward to the heat,” Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said. “With this being his first time in Malaysia it will be a real learning curve for him, with different roads and different road surfaces through the palm plantations. “And of course you can almost guarantee that it will be wet and slippery at some stage, so that will make it even tougher for him”.
“On the other hand, Gill has done this event a few times and that should give him an advantage. He has shown incredible speed this year and that will give him plenty of confidence.”
Aside from a mid-season engine change for both Skoda Fabia S2000s, the team have made no real changes to the cars for this event. A test session early in the week saw them trialling some new MRF tyres, with changes in compounds that continues the development of the tyre across a broad range of conditions.
Malaysia’s tropical climate will see ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees, however high humidity will make conditions stifling, meaning in-car temperatures will be around 60 degrees during stages. To help counter this, Team MRF’s drivers and co-drivers will wear cool suits in an effort to keep their core body temperatures as low as possible.“In conditions such as these, you need to do everything possible to ensure the crew perform at their optimum level, and the cool suits are one of the ways we do that,” Heenan added.
The Malaysian Rally begins on Friday afternoon with a super special stage, before competition continues over the weekend. The rally includes 15 special stages with a total competitive distance of 219.90 kilometres, all held in daylight. The longest stage of the rally is the 26.32km ‘Tai Tak’ stage, to be contested twice on Saturday.
As well as leading the overall championship standings for drivers and co-drivers, Team MRF have a lead of nearly 100 points in the Team’s Trophy, and Skoda take a 37.5 point Manufacturers advantage into this event.
CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS (after round 3 of 7)
1. Lappi 78pts; 2. Takale 75; 3. Gaurav Gill 71.5; 4. Michael Young 28; 5. Hiroshi Asakura 28.
Overall co-drivers: 1. Ferm 78; 2. Gregory 75; 3. Glenn Macneall 71.5; 4. Daniel Willson 28; 5. Osamu Yoda 23; 6. Takumi Takahashi 5.
Manufacturers: 1. ŠKODA 113.5; 2. Subaru 76; 3. Mitsubishi 71.5; 4. PROTON 18; 5. Toyota 14.